A long time ago, a man named Anthony lived in Egypt, son of poor peasant. Working as a field laborer, he one day decided, after hearing some rather striking words of Christ in church, to retreat into the desert, forsaking even what few worldly attachments such a poor farmer could have. As Henri Nouwen describes in his excellent book The Way of the Heart, “During those years Anthony experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him.”
That description seems strangely familiar for that of a seventeen-hundred-year-old Egyptian peasant. But perhaps your name isn’t Anthony. Let’s read the description again: “During those years [insert your name here] experienced a terrible trial. The shell of his superficial securities was cracked and the abyss of iniquity was opened to him.” Why is it that people much more comfortable and secure (I love that even incredibly-poor Anthony has “securities”) and probably not living in the desert seem to have so much in common spiritually with someone like Anthony? Because spiritually we are exactly the same.
In Anthony’s day, just as in our own, the evils of the world, so constantly present, had taken a less plain form than they had during the persecutions of the past. Anthony was enslaved: not physically, and in no Marxist class-warfare sense either. He was enslaved to even what few things he had, because one does not have to be rich to be enslaved to wealth. Christ’s command is not: “You who are within a certain income bracket are destined for the kingdom of heaven, so get there.” Instead, it is always to give what one has, letting go…that letting go is the freedom from the slavery. Even the poor widow gave both her coppers, lest she be tied to even one of them in her desperation, a coin heavy enough to pull her down into hell.
So also with Anthony and ourselves. If we cannot give up our superficial securities (be they money or popularity or power, and note that I merely said “cannot” as opposed to “do not”, for God’s purposes are extensive), we cannot accept real securities.
Pink is the symbolic color for joy, often covering Christ and His beloved, and thrown about the altar of old-fashioned churches midway through Lent, midway through the time in the desert. When Christ spoke to Anthony that day, he was telling Anthony that the surest way to find a pink robe was to go out into the desert, where he could rid himself of his useless protection and face “the abyss of iniquity” with the power of God, emerging as the character we now know as St. Anthony of the Desert, or St. Anthony the Great, twenty years later, “the father of monks”. Whether or not we heed enough to even try to go into any kind of desert, people today tend to have plenty of experience with “cracking” and “the abyss of iniquities” without the power of God, clinging instead to whatever seems more comfortable. If we do this, we can never have joy. Pink robes can only be found in the desert, and we will only survive long enough to find them when we approach the desert with the water of God instead of wandering out with our pockets full of dry, leaden coppers.